By Erin Wilkey Oh, Common Sense Media Executive Editor, Education
Parents know firsthand the impact a poor night's sleep has on kids. Lack of sleep can contribute to crankiness, problems with attention and learning, behavior issues, and even health problems such as obesity. Though the reasons for poor sleep vary, many parents worry that media and technology interfere with bedtime routines and sleep.
Studies on how media use affects kids' sleep aren't conclusive. But they do highlight certain behaviors that are associated with poor sleep. We've put together a list of tips for ways your family might manage tech use to help your kids (and you!) sleep better. We hope you find something that works for you.
Encourage physical activity instead of screen time after school. After a long day at school, many kids just want to plop down in front of a computer or TV and veg out. Although kids definitely deserve a break, studies show that increasing physical activity during the day can lead to better sleep.
Keep devices off the bed. It's possible that the blue light emitted from laptops, tablets, and smartphones interrupts sleep patterns. Set up other comfy spots in the living room or on the bedroom floor for tweens and teens to do computer work or just enjoy their screen time.
Try white-noise apps to calm babies and toddlers. With bedtimes for young kids starting as early as 6:30 or 7 p.m., you may find it hard to provide a quiet environment for sleeping babies. Apps such as White Noise (iOS/Android, $1.99) or White Noise Baby (iOS/Android, $0.99) can help soothe little ones to sleep while the rest of the family carries on with regular evening activities.
Limit young kids' exposure to violent content. Especially for kids under 8, seeing violence in videos, on TV shows, in video games, and in movies can directly affect quality sleep. Exposure to media violence can increase kids' anxiety and lead to nightmares that interrupt the sleep cycle.
Keep TVs out of the bedroom. The connection between bedroom TV and poor sleep is well established. Kids don't sleep as well or as long with a TV present.
Make the bedroom a "no-connection" zone. The growing trend of sleep-texting is a disturbing enough reason to play it safe. Confine online activity to common areas such as the dining room or living room and have kids charge their phones in another room at night.
Minimize screen time right before bed. Try to establish the hour or so before bed as a screen-free time for kids to wind down. A calming routine such as a bath followed by quiet activities or reading will help young kids make the transition more easily. Getting teens to "unplug" before bed will help them disconnect from the excitement and drama happening online.
Introduce your kids to meditation or calming apps. Meditation apps can be a quieting addition to kids' bedtime routines. Stop, Breathe & Think (iOS, free) offers 15 guided meditations that encourage kids to take stock of their mental and emotional states.
Set up a phone/iPod charging station in the family room. Some studies suggest that simply sleeping near small devices such as phones is associated with poorer sleep. With notifications and texts coming in at all hours, tweens' and teens' sleep will get fewer interruptions if they leave their phones in the living room or kitchen for the night.
Model healthy sleep habits. No matter which ground rules and routines you put in place for your family, it will be a hard sell if you don't practice what you preach. Young kids emulate their parents, and tweens and teens will question your rules if you don't follow them yourself.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.